For Ben Cowderoy, there is no way of being unhappy on a bicycle. For years, exploring new places or just returning to familiar routes on two wheels was something that allowed him to find serenity and regroup. So, it made sense that when he chose to leave school at the University of Guelph just over a year ago that he decided to take to the road instead.
After watching friends and family suffer from mental health problems without always having access to the services they needed, Cowderoy decided to partner his journey with raising money for the Canadian Mental Health Association. During the summer of 2015, he started in Guelph and biked all the way to Halifax, raising over $10,000 along the way.
Before starting off on his 2,000 km trip, Cowderoy began as a mental health advocate and fundraiser by getting loose change from classmates who were coming home from a night out in Guelph. He said that this is where he first saw how willing people are to open up about mental health once even a small bridge has been built or a helping hand has been extended. Around that time, Ben told a reporter from the Guelph Mercury, “This isn’t really a story about me, it’s about the people suffering day in and day out, invisibly.” He even spoke of moments when people would break down in front of him, sharing their own struggles.
Once Cowderoy began his ride on July 14, 2015, he soon discovered that while mental health services are seriously underfunded or even recognized in Canada, it is something that affects millions of Canadians and links us all together. It is estimated that 1 in 5 Canadians will have issues relating to their mental health within their lifetime. After 4 months of fundraising and a trek that took only 18 days to complete, Cowderoy understands even more now than ever the importance of services like free counseling.
While Ben decided to leave the University of Guelph in the middle of his sophomore year, he does not feel that the university failed to provide him with the help that he needed. Even now, he goes to the gym on campus and sees signs asking, “Have you thought about your mental health today?” Instead, he believes that one of the major barriers behind people getting the help that they need is the stigma surrounding mental illness. People still feel coming forward is a big deal and something that won’t be accepted or even properly acknowledged by their loved ones. But, from what Cowderoy has seen along the road and in his own life, talking about it can make all of the difference in the world.
At 20 years old, Cowderoy already understands the power of deciding to make a major change in your life when you don’t feel that things are working out. Cowderoy made the brave choice to leave behind his studies in Geography and, instead, follow his own path. As congratulations for completing his ride, his mother met him at the finish in Halifax and handed him a note saying, “Congratulations Ben, you get your major in Geography.”
Without a doubt, Cowderoy learned more than he would in a classroom during his journey and made some new friends as well. He used the website WarmShowers.org, a community much like Couch Surfer but especially for cyclists, to find room and board (and a shower) for 6 nights of his ride. He is still in contact with many of his hosts. He also learned that some parts of Canada don’t have the neat and safe bike paths that he was used to in Guelph, making this already grueling ride even more difficult at times.
Now, Cowderoy is back in Guelph and on a path to a happier and more fulfilling life. At the time of our interview, he was on his way to work at Borealis Bar & Grille where he is a server. He is thinking about going back to school to train in a trade and is already planning his next ride – where he plans to again start in Guelph and this time go west all the way to Vancouver. He would also like to go south, through the USA.
While Cowderoy enjoyed his trip, he did admit that hitting the road alone was lonely at times. This is why he is planning his next adventure with his childhood friend Liam Hunt. In fact, he might not have been able to plan for another adventure without this friend. Ben’s bike was stolen while he was at work a few months ago. Hunt immediately started a crowd funding campaign to get him a new one. Recently, Cowderoy took his first ride on his new bike, which he says is the nicest one he has ever seen. Hopefully it will lead him on inspiring rides all over the world in the future.
Ben was introduced to us at Tokii through Lorie Avery, who is the National Director, Fund Development at CMHA. About Ben, she said,
“Without donors like Ben, we would not be here. His event raised the most money of any 3rd party event in 2015! He is an inspiration. CMHA is grateful for his support. Without mental health. We have no health. Thank you Ben!”
As our way of saying Thank You to Ben for his amazing contribution to mental health awareness, we offered him a gift certificate for 2 of our shirts. Ben chose the My Inner Ghouls – Men’s Sport Tee (pictured above) and the Brewing Hate – Men’s Cotton Tee (pictured to the left).
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